Key Interview Questions

Two women at a job interviewEmployers use all kinds of interview strategies.

Some questions require more attention to storytelling and detail. Others are designed to tease out valuable clues about how you would fit into a work environment.

Let's look at some typical questions and the implications and motivations behind them.

Can you tell me about yourself? 

This is an open-ended question often asked to help break the ice in the interview.

The important thing to remember is to keep the answer job-related.

Your response to this question should last about two minutes and be especially well-practiced.

Why are you interested in working for this company? 

This will show the employer you've done your homework.

State the positive things you've learned about the company and how they fit with your career goals.

Mention you just read an article or saw a piece on the news about the company. Highlight that you were impressed by the performance of a particular unit, or the entire company, over the past year. "Your sales increase of 20 percent was impressive," goes a long way toward showing you did your research.

Can you tell me about your education? 

Even though your resume includes this information, some employers want you expand on the subject. Mention your grade point if it was over 3.0 and what impact your education has had on your understanding of the world and of your professional field. Always note the classes, seminars, workshops and on-the-job training you've attended that support your job goals.

Why have you chosen this particular field? 

This is one way to show your enthusiasm and dedication to your career. Share your continued excitement to be a nurse, or a technologist, or a teacher or a truck driver.

Can you describe your best and worst bosses? 

This could be a trap. Don't present a negative picture of any past employers. If given a choice, always talk about your best boss. If pressed to describe the worst boss, pick a work-related characteristic that can be stated in a positive way. For example, "I had a supervisor who was vague when issuing assignments. I learned to ask questions so that I knew what was expected."

In a job, what interests you the most and the least? 

This will give the employer another gauge for measuring how well you will fit the job opening.

What is your major weakness? 

"I have none" won't work or will come off as less than honest.

Turn the question into a positive by stating how you overcame a weakness. Martin Yate, author of "Knock 'em Dead, the Ultimate Search Guide," gives an illustration where a job seeker admits to not always handling paperwork well.

His manager tells him to work on getting the paperwork in order. He "takes it to heart" and changes his behavior and notes, "You only have to tell me something once." The scenario, adds Yate, offers you the added bonus of "showing that you accept and act on criticism."

Can you give an example of how you solved a problem in the past? 

It's important to be able to show the process you go through when presented with a problem. State the problem and the steps you followed to reach the solution. If it's hard to come up with a problem, switch to a project and how you completed it.

What are your strengths? 

This is the time to describe the skills you've identified that will most effectively "market" you as an employee.

Offer a confident and measured response, delineating skills or skill sets and how they have led to your success in past jobs and will benefit another employer in the future.

How do others describe you? 

Another way for the employer to ask this would be, "How would you fit into this work group?" If you aren't comfortable with this question or don't know how to answer it, call some friends or people you've worked with and ask them to describe you.

What was your most important contribution or accomplishment in your last job? 

Give examples of ways you saved the employer time or money, or developed an office procedure that improved efficiency. Any leadership opportunities should be highlighted.

Where do you see yourself in three years

Point out that you hope to acquire sufficient skills and knowledge within that time to make a positive contribution to the company.

You might pick a position a step or two above the post you are applying for, but tell the interviewer you only want a promotion you have earned and one in which you will have the confidence to succeed.

How do you think you will fit into this operation? 

This is the time to express your interest in the job and knowledge of the employer. The more you know about the operation the easier this question will be to answer.

If you were hired, what could you contribute to the position or our company? 

This is another great opportunity for you to sell your skills. By giving examples of past accomplishments, you help the employer visualize your contribution to the company.

Can you give an example where you showed leadership and initiative? 

Even if you haven't had the title of lead worker, supervisor or manager, give examples of when you recognized a job needed to be done and you did it. Again, use samples outside the workforce if they fit.

Give me an example of when you were able to contribute to a team project.

Any job that requires communicating with others usually requires some amount of teamwork. For example, teamwork is used in sales because both parties have to state their needs and expectations before negotiating the sale. Families, community activities and school all require teamwork.

What have you done to develop or change in the last few years? 

This shows a willingness to be challenged and to improve. Employers are looking for people who are willing to continue learning.

Talk about formal and informal educational opportunities you ve pursued. Mention books and periodicals you ve read related to your field of interest.

Do you have any questions for me? 

By asking questions, you again show interest in the job.

Case Study 
Learn how Karen Oldenborg actually talked herself right into a job by asking her interviewers all kinds of detailed questions. Read Karen's story.

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